Personal Stories

As a legacy to our families and their following generations, many of us have written our “personal polio” stories. Some are about our own experience with the disease; some are written from the view of a sibling, a parent, a spouse, or a friend; and a few are detailed by healthcare professionals. Perhaps someday we will make these histories into a book which could be read by many. Through this and all our projects, our goal is to speak for continued vigilance against polio by means of immunizations.

A Nurse Remembers. . . 

My polio nursing experience in Colorado lasted only a few weeks, but it is a vivid memory!  We had six iron lungs in a large ward.  There were other rooms for polio patients who did not require assistance in breathing.  Most of them had family members or friends who read aloud or talked with them to pass the time.

They often also helped with feeding at mealtime.  Patients in iron lungs usually had liquid meals taken through a straw.  Many received additional nutrition through an IV.


The iron lung patients were turned and/or repositioned regularly to avoid pressure sores.  Most of them were totally paralyzed, so this was heavy work and sometimes awkward because we were often working through the port holes on the sides of the lung.

Treatment was with the Sister Kenny hot pack therapy.  These were applied to the affected areas several times a day.  Pieces of woolen blankets were soaked in very hot water in a converted wringer washer.  We fed the packs through the wringer with sticks because they were too hot to handle.  Then there was the dash to apply them while they retained the heat.  There was no air conditioning then, and it was summer.  This was hot, tiring work.  I remember my first day on duty.  I was on evening shift.  I walked across campus afterward to my dormitory.  I stood and looked up the stairs to my second floor room wondering how I was supposed to get up them.  There was no one around, so I crawled up on my hands and knees!  By the next day I had adjusted to the work.

Another memory was of a time a service door on an iron lung fell on the floor with a clang.  Every nurse on the floor immediately left what she was doing and converged on that ward.  We were afraid the incident would cause the patients to be fearful, but the response seemed to build confidence instead.  

It was an exhausting but memorable few weeks!


                                                                                  RN, retired

Joyce Shrock Cook

I was living on a farm west of Inman, Kansas.  I was 24 when the polio symptoms began in 1952.  My back was hurting so I went for a Swedish massage treatment to relieve the pain.  The therapist saw something wrong in the muscles and recommended I see a medical doctor.  There was no relief from the massage.

Later that week I walked into the kitchen and fell down.  My husband helped me get into bed.  I couldn’t sit up any longer.  After receiving the diagnosis of polio I was stunned. There was fear of being contagious and because I was nine months pregnant, I feared for the health and safety of my unborn child.

Before the baby was born there was no treatment and I was in isolation.  I was quarantined for two weeks from my admittance to the hospital on October 5 until my baby was delivered October 24.  All equipment for delivery was in the room because I was not to be in the general delivery room.

When Kristine Kae was born on October 24, she was a healthy nine and one half pound little girl.  She stayed in the hospital for nine days.  Then my husband’s parents took her to their home until I was able to return to our home on the farm.

After the baby was born the hot packs and exercises began.  I was not in an iron lung.

I have a vivid memory of leaving my one year old daughter when I went to the hospital with polio.  She stayed with her grandparents.  To this day, 56 years later, I remember her grandfather holding her up to the window of my room.  She was on the outside and couldn’t see me, but I was able to see her.  So each of my daughters got well acquainted with their grandparents the six months I was in the Grace Hospital in Hutchinson.

Polio influenced my adult life.  As far as direction, my career had to be sedentary, as I could only do jobs where I could be seated.  I had some college education and business classes from Adela Hale Business College.  I did secretarial work as a church secretary, worked at Kansas State University, Pioneer Hybrid International, and Wichita Farm Credit Bank.  Also I was able to channel my creativity towards sewing and became very accomplished.

On a daily basis the polio experience has made me more sensitive to the limitations and concerns of others.  I have continued weakness in the lower back and legs and unable to walk distances.  Due to post polio syndrome and body degeneration I rely on a scooter for mobility.  There is periodic physical therapy and the use of medication to relieve the constant pain.